A crisp reminder that the sense of touch is not to be taken lightly.
“Touch is not optional for human development,” writes Linden (Neuroscience/Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine; The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good, 2011, etc.) in this exploration of touch, from the tips of our toes to the tops of our skulls. Touch is critical from birth—“deprive a newborn of social touch...and a disaster unfolds”—and shapes the way we find our ways through the world via the circuitry of this “weird, complex, and often counterintuitive system.” Social touch, on the whole, reinforces cooperation and loyalty, from professional sports players to packs of grooming primates. Depending on the nature of the social touch, it may soothe, reconcile, form alliances and reinforce bonds. Linden peruses the different sensors in the skin, the genetics of hot and cold, the sense of safety communicated by a particular caress, illusionary touches and our knowledge that “pain perception has an anatomically distinct emotional component.” The author also spins out a hilarious story of an intimate yet strange morning with his girlfriend when he experienced significant confusion in the sensation-perception realm, and he provides a dissection of the orgasm that is at once transfixing (Linden’s short course in neurology prepares readers for the description) and worthy of Woody Allen: “When we have an orgasm it feels like a transcendent, unified moment, not merely a collection of disparate sensations. We experience orgasms as intrinsically pleasurable and emotionally positive….For an orgasm, mix together the following ingredients…Serves: 1.” Though the author includes a host of entertaining anecdotes, his narrative is consistently backed by solid science.
So surpassing does Linden make touch seem that even turning the pages of his book becomes a pleasurable experience.